Club talk

A-League or Coventry – a bit of a Gray area…and…Moseley, no quarter given and no concessions made

Nigel Melville, Director of Professional Rugby at the RFU, has come out strongly against the recent plans by the Premiership to increase the number of A-League games from 10 this season, up from 5 last season, to 22 next year in an attempt to mirror the full Premiership season.

Melville, presumably aggrieved at the way his plans to introduce a ‘buddying-up’ system were railroaded by the Premiership last season, is more than a little disappointed.

He  believes that giving youngsters the opportunity to play in the Championship and National One provides them with a far better introduction into the top tiers of national rugby, playing as they do alongside some vastly experienced and talented players, as opposed to isolating them in their own Premiership A-League.

…I think the Championship is the best option for younger players because it’s on a Saturday, it’s highly competitive and you’re playing in a league where you learn to win

(The Rugby Paper – Sunday 3 September)

And it is hard to argue against the benefits that will accrue to a talented 20 year old playing, say, in the back row alongside the likes of Makaafi, Narraway and Preece, or in the centres with Stevens, Grove or Tuitupou, or in the front row with Tolmie, Litchfield, Brown, Boulton and Nilsen. You just can’t recreate that sort of experience artificially.

That’s of course supposing that clubs like Cov have opportunities for Academy players in their side. Cov now runs its own Development Academy and surely the intention here is to produce enough local talent of our own to avoid having to rely on the likes of Wasps or Leicester to provide us with what would amount to little more than cover for our own players as the squad currently stands.

Good as a Jack Willis is, would we want him for perhaps 10 games a season at the expense of one of the current crop of Coventry back rowers, and I  include the likes of Daynes and Povoas in that, as well as Makaafi, Narraway and Preece.

Probably not, to be honest.

However, there is of course another, slightly more selfish, reason that perhaps underlies  Melville’s latest comments.

Both Championship and National One sides rely heavily on the Premiership clubs to bolster their squads with a number of Academy players. This is a far more cost-effective way of increasing squad sizes and with so many clubs, especially in the Championship, struggling to keep their financial heads above water, the use of dual registration players/loanees makes complete sense. Coventry now seem to be going down an altogether different route, one that will make the club far more self-sufficient in terms of player numbers than many other clubs both in National One and even the Championship…and both Jon Sharp and Rowland Winter deserve huge praise in turning what had long been seen as something of a pipe-dream into a reality.

All of which makes Cameron Gray’s decision to play for Wasps Academy an interesting one. He’s clearly an outstanding prospect, having already played for England Counties at U20s and is bound to be attracting attention from other clubs.

Maybe Monday’s appearance was just a one-off and he’ll be back with us as member of our own senior squad (I think he’s been promoted from the Development Squad…?), but if it’s not and the intention is for Cameron to have a run in the A-league, then he’s had to make an intriguing choice. Playing on a Monday with Wasps Academy means that he wouldn’t be able to play for Cov on a Saturday before an A game and, with Tom Poole out injured for a while by the look of it and Tom Jubb also suffering from a slight hip problem, the chances are he’d be packing alongside either George Oram and Niles Dacres before too long, both of whom represented England Counties last season. At 20 that would seem the next step up for someone with the obvious talent that Cameron has.

Cameron Gray’s first outing with Wasps’ Academy, a side which also included George Oghre, on Monday doesn’t appear to have been a particularly happy one. The game, played at Broadstreet, ended up a very one-sided affair with a final score of Wasps 21 Newcastle Falcons 67. Newcastle dominated and it appears the set pieces weren’t Wasps’ strong point.

But there’s the rub, stay with Cov and work with seasoned pros who know the game inside out, or venture into the Academy of one of the Premiership elite and benefit from the complete package that goes with being one of the top clubs in Europe.

Certainly sounds tempting.

Especially for players with the potential of Cameron. But there are some reservations attached to such a move…

One would be that some of the Premiership clubs have small squads, of which Wasps is one, and by its own admission.

Are clubs with undersized squads going to come calling for players from junior sides like Cov when they can’t put together a full A side from their own numbers, when perhaps those players would be better off remaining a part of a National One/Championship set up?

I’m not for a minute suggesting that is the case with Cameron, he’s far too good a player for that,  just that it is a possible scenario.

Even on Wasps’ own messageboard following he game on Monday, posters were suggesting:

From the twitter updates, we seemed to be getting mullered. And yes to someone’s question, we have a very small squad. And yes, it is quite likely some invitees are there to be ‘looked at.’ I have a feeling that at least one of our recent signings arrived that way, if not more.

and:

Is anyone missing from the senior academy?

Don’t know if we have enough.

It does gives some weight to Melville’s belief that allowing Premiership Academy players the opportunity to play in the Championship and National provides them with a better grounding in the game than ring fencing them in their own elite A League which maybe won’t be as competitive, especially if there are teams with squad sizes that make it so difficult to field a full academy side.

Okay, basing an argument around the opinions of a couple of supporters who weren’t even at the game might be somewhat tenuous, but how about considering those of none other than Saracens DoR Mark McCall who, according to a recent article in the Daily Telegraph, has ‘rubbished’ the PRL’s plans to increase the number of A League games still further next season, seeing it as:

a bid to replace the Championship as the second tier of English rugby

Mark McCall’s on Premiership Academies

So there’s even some disharmony within their own ranks, then?

However, McCall’s comments aren’t based on any moral view as to the rights or wrongs of whether the Premiership should spread it’s empire still further. No, his reasons are purely pragmatic in nature:

We (Saracens) would need to employ 10 more players, we would need to employ 10 more staff and within the salary cap I don’t know how we could have a 22 game A League…they are all mouths to feed, they are all people to be looked after on a day-to-day basis. It is probably as far as it can go now

Which goes back to my earlier concerns.

Judging by what McCall has to say, probably less well. His seems to be something of a lone voice though amongst Premiership clubs which is a shame, as according to The Telegraph even this season, with just the 10 A League games, some:

…Premiership clubs will struggle to fulfil those fixtures with their current squads, with Worcester Warriors understood to be relying upon university students to bolster their numbers

If Premiership clubs don’t have the funding needed to support a full 22 game A League season, then it would have to be a non-starter, despite the benefits of such a proposal.

It looks as if, judging from the comments made by their own supporters, even Wasps might be struggling to put out sides that are as competitive as perhaps it would like at this level. McCall may not share the same reasons for not wanting the A-League to stretch to 22 games next season as Melville, but both appear fundamentally in agreement. And that is a concern, especially if the Premiership DoRs aren’t united behind the scheme.

I am really encouraged by the fact that Cov this season aren’t having to rely on the likes of Tom Howe and Owain James, great prospects though they are. I’d welcome them, or players of similar ability, with open arms should injuries and enforced absence ever mean that we can’t put out a side that makes us competitive; of course I would.

But I’d far rather Cov be able to rely on its own senior squad, whilst also developing it’s own Academy players to a level that enables them to fit into the senior squad without any noticeable decrease in the effectiveness of the team…and that would include the likes of Cameron Gray.

If other National One sides are less fortunate, then dual registered players and loanees should be allowed to supplement core numbers BUT with a reduction in the current limit of 10 EAPs back to a more sensible number of 4 or 5, and then  only if the Premiership decides not to go with the 22 games A League next season. If they do opt to increase the number of games, then judging by McCall’s comments, loaning players out to Tiers 2 and 3, or effectively 3 and 4 if this does go ahead, just won’t be practicable.

For reference, this weeks A League results from earlier in the week were:

Bath United 13  65 Saracens Storm 

Worcester Cavaliers 12 61 Leicester Tigers 

Wasps 21  67 Newcastle Falcons 

Sale Jets 7 22 Northampton Wanderers  

Harlequins 9 20 Exeter Braves  

London Irish 19 38 Gloucester United 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

From the Moseley Supporters’ website

Coventry coach now sold out!  Thanks to everyone for booking, details for Saturday below.

The clubhouse will be open for food and drink from 12pm and we will be leaving at 1pm prompt so please arrive in plenty of time. If you cannot make it, please let us know asap as we do have a reserve list.

Coventry have opted not to discount entry this season (boo!) so admission is as follows:

Adult – £15.00
Concession – £11.00
Students – £11.00(with valid SU card)
16’s & under – free when accompanied by an adult
Couple of interesting things there…
A full coach – well that was only to be expected.
And I do like the way Moseley is encouraging its supporters to have something to eat and drink before setting out from their ground. Given that Cov is so close, that makes some sense, especially if their catering staff are already providing food at the clubhouse anyway. It can only help bring supporters closer together before such an important game in which they could have a part to play. Moseley supporters can be extremely vocal on occasions!
That said, as far as the food is concerned, aren’t they aware of Istanbul’s…? Sorry Cov, (and Tesco – no Meal Deal this week) –  it’s a trip to Cov’s finest kebab house before the game on Saturday. Sam has the Birmingham marathon looming large, so it might just be me gorging myself on a quarter pounder.
Okay, half pounder then.
And no concessions for visiting Moseley supporters this time round?
In a way it’s a shame Cov has made the decision not to sanction a reduction, but the more I’ve thought about it, the more I can see the justification for so doing. Saturday will be Coventry’s biggest pay day of the season, by a distance. By charging the supporters coming by coach £15 not the £12 reduced entrance, Cov have another £150 or so in the coffers – enough perhaps for the cost of keep the floodlights on for a full game or two. Had the offer extended to all Moseley members, the saving would have been considerably more.
And every little helps….
Indeed, even the Moseley supporters seem pretty sanguine about it:

When you’re throwing everything including the kitchen sink at getting promoted, then a coachload times a few quid each may make a difference.

I hear they’re aiming for a crowd significantly higher than last December.

I’m sure we won’t benefit from any reductions come December when we take the short trip over to Billesley, so it all evens itself out, although I rather suspect we’ll take across two or three times the number Mose will bring over to us on Saturday.
I have to say, I was impressed by the response on the their board though, even if it was just the one comment. I was rather expecting a ‘Bilious from Billesley’ sort of post and had it been the other way around we might well have got one or two ‘Angry from Allesleys’.
Not sure, though, about an attendance ‘significantly’ above that back in December – I’ve not heard anything of that nature coming from the club.
That would make it in the region of 3000 +
Now that would be a sight…
…and a sound.
And a sea of blue and white…if we all come kitted up, as perhaps we should.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Many thanks as always to everyone who voted in yesterday’s poll.
Today is the last chance to vote if you haven’t yet done so. It’s very tight for the top two places with only two votes between then, so your vote might well make a difference…
A brief reminder:
Which of the more ‘senior’ players who have come to play for Cov in the last two seasons would you most have wanted to see play for Cov in their prime?

Any one of them would have been a privilege to watch, but if only had the one choice, who would it be?
Results tomorrow.

10 replies »

  1. That’s not a problem, Tim. I feel it’s best to be open and upfront about these things so people don’t get the wrong idea. He has been lucky to have many great supporters and coaches who want the best for him. Rowland & the Cov coaches have been good to him as was Paul Hurst at Broadstreet and many more over the past 6 years. When you get to meet him you will find him to be a humble, down to earth, young lad.

    He is at University so he can get a degree and have a career. If the rugby progresses well over the next year he will postpone his year in business and just finish his degree. Most importantly he’s enjoying himself and loves pushing himself ever harder. As Wasps fans (me, since the 90’s) we were both happy to see him in a Wasps shirt but his next target is to be ready to step up for Cov as and when the opportunity arises. In the meantime we hope to experience the Coventry ‘roar’ this w/e.

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    • Thanks for explaining the situation…those supporters who sit around me are full of praise for Cameron and we’ll all follow his career with great interest. Hopefully, he’ll be part of a promotion winning side here at Cov before he moves on!!! The roar…it is impressive…and you might even see the Covdog tomorrow…and then you’ll have been truly blessed!

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  2. Another thought provoking blog Tim. With CRSC doing excellent work last season with the benefit for away travelling fans of a reduction in admittance price. I believe that our club has shot us down in flames, Just think that other clubs reading this will say to CRSC now.

    I can fully understand Cameron looking to advance his career further. I for one wish him all the very best. But I also think if he was called upon by Coventry he would give 100%.

    Best of luck to our top tip tipster in young Sam Smith (sorry Mr P.P LOL) for his venture into marathon running. Now I wonder if his slimmed down father is contemplating a go at one?

    Another fan here looking forward to Saturday, But remember it’s only the second game of the season. But COME ON COV.

    Michael Carter

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    • Hi Mick…great to see you last night…and to listen to RW…really informative. Hopefully,, Cov will only rescind the offer on the Moseley game so it won’t affect other clubs…hopefully. Sam ran the Athens marathon a few years ago, so it won’t be his first…he seems to be training more seriously for this one though. It won’t stop me tempting him with a burger though! Can’t wait until tomorrow…Sue’s coming, so best behaviour for me!

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  3. Hi Tim
    Excitement building nicely towards Saturday and hope that we do get over the 3k in bums on seats (or standing as the case would be!)
    Regarding the discounted price for Mose SC members, i personally think it is a wrong decision to remove it. As we are well aware we are offered a CRSC discount at all* away games we go to (* at least i think that is the case) and it just seems for a small amount of money the good will has been taken away. Personally it just seems a bit petty.
    Anyway roll on Saturday and a great game of Rugby, keenly fought and contested, great support from both camps and a Cov win…..

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    • Hi Phil…yep, your argument re the price reduction is a very fair one and one I share, it’s just that I can see why the club have made the decision not to off any reduced rates. An actually, if as I imagine, Mose take the same view in December, they will profit more as we will have greater travelling support. Perhaps it’s also an indication that Cov are keeping a tight hold on the purse strings right now…

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  4. Tim, thanks for a very thought provoking post and Ed, thanks very much for taking the time to respond and give us the details of both Cameron’s relationship with Wasps and the training programme that he is following. As the season progresses I am sure we’ll see more Coventry players loaned out and guesting for other clubs to ensure they get game time if options are limited in the 1st XV or Zoo Shield.
    As for this coming Saturday, I can’t remember the last time I felt so excited at the prospect of a match at the Butts. I’m sure all the Cov supporters will be doing their bit to ensure the Cov Dog is snapping and snarling away for the full 80 minutes.
    G’warn Cov!

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    • The nearer Mose game gets the more knots in my tummy I get. If last Dec was big, this is very BIG and a good result, in front of a massive crowd, could set us up at home for the rest of the season. There are plenty of doggers 😉 in the Cov side this season, players who will tough it out and keep going when the pressure is on, with the back row especially strong in that area…as is Moseley’s. that should be a great match-up. Will go down to training and get a feel of the mood at the BPA this evening, although it’s not too difficult to imagine what it will be like.

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  5. I’m sure Rowland would be happy to answer your questions regarding Cameron if you ask him. I believe it is something of an experiment and is a question of suck it and see. Coventry is Cameron’s senior club in all this and Rowland has the final decision. The idea is to see if Cameron can progress faster in his all round game by training with Wasps whilst studying for his degree at Coventry University. To that end he has signed a University contract with them which sees him training 4 days a week during his holidays from University and/or when asked to do so. Since the middle of July he has been at Broadstreet for s&c for 7am Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday. After breakfast (fabulous by the way) he has a training session, then lunch, followed by another session. You will have seen that he has also been there with Coventry every Tuesday and Thursday evening for training. So far it has been going really well. The benefit to Coventry is his fitness has improved and his confidence too. I heard the Jersey game on the radio and he didn’t seem out of place when he played for the whole of the 2nd half in which Coventry matched Jersey on points. He played the whole 80 mins against Rotherham and again did well, even though he does blame himself over 2 incidents. He is on a learning curve and is excited to be challenging for a 1st XV spot with Coventry.

    The first A League game with Wasps didn’t go well. Scrums were good but the line outs very poor. The Wasps website photo does show Cameron catching the ball from the line out at least once but it, in general, let the team down. The Newcastle side were more senior whilst Wasps had something like 5 senior players, 5 senior academy and 5 invitees starting. Anyway he has been asked to play in the game against Sale next week and Rowland is happy for that. With only 5 subs at N1 level there would rarely be an opportunity to have a 2nd row on the bench so Cameron has to wait for a starting opportunity. I’m sure that will happen this season as it progresses. I hope that answers your points, Tim. We are both looking forward to watching the Coventry v Moseley game on Saturday. Our first big derby game with Coventry. I’m sure it will be a close and exciting game.

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    • Hi Ed – Thanks for such a detailed and open response. I probably shouldn’t have mentioned Cameron at all in the post, as I was really just trying to highlight the difficulties that some of the Premiership clubs seem to be having, if the Sarries DoR is right, in recruiting enough players for the 10 game Academy season let alone the proposed 22, and highlighting Melville’s concerns about the effects of Championship and National 1 clubs. Cameron was certainly prominent in both the Jersey and Rotherham games and, as you say, he didn’t look out of place. He’s definitely one for the future – I guess I’d just like it to be with Cov, provided we can offer him the challenges he needs. If it came across as anything else I can only apologise…sometimes. I do get a bit carried away with myself,

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